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THE FORGOTTEN 50: The stories of 50 people who died whilst claiming benefits
Compiled by the Green Party
Mark’s doctor said Mark was “extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever”. He had Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and mental health problems. He was found fit for work and his benefits were cut, leaving him with about £40 per week to live on. Four months later he was found dead, weighing just 35kg. Mark’s sister Cathie said, “He didn’t deserve to die. He wasn’t harming anyone,”
David was a former soldier and had cared for his mother before she died. Whilst looking for a job his benefits were sanctioned. Eighteen days later David was found dead from diabetic ketoacidosis. He had no food in his stomach. Near his body was a pile of CVs. His sister Gill said, “In my opinion, [the benefit sanction] was a death sentence… To leave someone, even healthy, without food and any means for two weeks is going to have some drastic effect. You don’t know what’s round the corner. I’m 59 now – my brother’s age – luckily I’m OK and I’m working. But who knows what could hit me next year or the year after. Then what happens… are they going to do the same to me? You just don’t know.”
Dawn suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which left her severely breathless and unable to take care of herself. She had been receiving Attendance Allowance for six months when the DWP reviewed her claim and informed her that they were stopping her payment. On the day the letter was written, Dawn died in hospital. Her husband Mick asked, “How ill do you have to be?”
Nicholas was paralysed down one side of his body following a brain haemorrhage. He shot himself after his benefits were stopped. Coroner Michael Oakley said, “The main factor worrying him was that his benefits had been stopped and had he attended the appeal he may have been successful, but it did not get that far. It is evident that the matter was concerning him greatly”
Robert died after being found fit to work. He had stopped working when diagnosed with severe cardiomyopathy. Doctors said only a heart transplant could save his life, but he was judged fit to work by the DWP. His aunt said, “Robert was dying and he accepted that. I feel he should have been left to enjoy what little time he had left. Robert had very little money on benefits and nothing at all when his money was stopped. Robert was very, very distressed after his Atos assessment.”
David had significant mental health problems. His Work Capability Assessment noted, “He reports he attempted an overdose six weeks ago but he would not say what he took. He reports he has had no thoughts of suicide since. The evidence overall suggests that he is not at substantial risk.” After being found fit to work David jumped off the Forth Bridge and later died in hospital.
David, a former farm worker and butcher, seriously damaged his back in a farm accident, then developed heart problems and diabetes, and had ulcerated legs. He was found to be capable of work and his benefits were cut. He and his wife Lyn were unable to heat the house and relied on borrowing money from friends and family. David was appealing his Fit for Work decision when he was diagnosed with cancer. He died before his appeal was heard. Lynn said her husband was “devastated when he was unable to carry on working.” “Cancer”, she said, “took his sight and his hearing, then his life. But months before that Atos took his dignity.”
Stephanie died after being affected by the bedroom tax. She walked on to the M6 motorway near her home, leaving a note for her family which said, “It’s my life, the only people to blame are the government.”
Malcolm took his own life after housing benefit changes left him owing Newham Council £800. Michael Rose, coroner for West Somerset, said: “This is the tragic tale of a man who lived all his life in the city of London being caught up in the changes of the government benefit system.”
Cecilia was undergoing treatment for cancer when she was judged fit to work. She appealed the decision, telling the BBC, “I was treated badly. I’ve been working since I was 17, I’ve paid all my stamps, all my National Insurance. The only time I was ever sick was when I was pregnant with my two sons. It has had a financial effect on me but it’s more (that) they’re getting away with it. They are just treating you like a second class citizen. That’s how I feel – that I don’t count, I don’t matter.’ Cecilia died a few weeks after her benefits were reinstated.
Stephen had a mental health condition but was found fit to work. His appeal against the decision was rejected and he took his own life. Coroner Tom Osborne ruled that Stephen’s decision had been ‘triggered by the rejection of his appeal against being found fit for work through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.’ He also wrote a Prevention of Future Deaths letter to the DWP, asking it to review its policy not to seek out medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if someone applying for out-of-work disability benefits had a mental health condition.
In her early fifties, Ms. DE had worked for many years despite depression, but had given up work when her illness deteriorated. When she was found fit to work and was placed on Jobseekers Allowance she feared she would lose her home. She died of an overdose. Ms. DE’s best friend and doctors told an inquiry into her death that she had been highly distressed and was plunged into crisis when she received the letter informing her of the change in her benefit. Dr Donald Lyons, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, said, “I don’t think there is enough understanding of the momentous impact these assessments can have. There was nothing else going on in this woman’s life that we could identify as to why she took her own life. She was engaged, she was looking forward to getting married. The only thing going on was the benefit assessment.”
Trevor had brain damage and epilepsy. When he was placed in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance he was alarmed he would not be able to comply with the conditionality and wrote to the DWP, saying, “I had a job at Remploy but I lost my job because they could no longer cope with my attacks.” As the date of his appeal approached Trevor was found hanging in his home. The Coroner’s Officer told Trevor’s inquest about his situation regarding benefits and said, “He had been feeling very down, due to the stress.”
Moira, a former nurse, was in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance and was twice summoned to a Work Capability Assessment. She informed the DWP she was too ill to attend. Her benefit was stopped. She entered into a long struggle with the DWP, and for the last seven months of her life had no income and growing debt. Her daughter Nichole said, “She told me the day before she died that the stress of having her benefits removed contributed to her decline…The way it works is crude and it’s cruel, and seems deliberately designed to get the weak and vulnerable off benefits to save money. It’s people who can’t fight back who are the victims.”
David had been told to stop work by his doctors, after a heart attack and several strokes. The night before he was due to undergo a Work Capability Assessment he was looking online for ways to raise cash in case his benefits were stopped, suffered another heart attack and died. His wife Sandra said, “When the Government said they were going to get all these benefit cheats and Dave was called in for a medical, he felt like he was back to square one. It built up and he was in a terrible state by the day he died. It was the stress that killed him, I’m sure.”
A former nurse, Jacqueline was partially sighted, had limited mobility and was in severe pain due to spinal problems. She was found fit to work and had her benefit stopped whilst waiting for an operation on her spine. She took a cocktail of drugs and ended her life. Her sister Christine blamed the outcome of the work capability assessment, saying, “It triggered her because it gave her no hope. She was defeated. What hope did she have?”
Having given up work due to chronic illness, Glenn told his ex-wife Gayle that he “couldn’t go through all that again” when he received a letter saying he must be reassessed for fitness to work. Glenn was said to be ‘profoundly worried’ when he killed himself using an electric saw. Gayle told the inquest “He was panicking about these benefit letters. He looked so poorly.” Returning a verdict of suicide Coroner Paul Kelly concluded that Mr. Harris, a former Findus process worker, suffered a “deteriorating picture of mental health” and was “becoming increasingly affected by adverse life events” including possible benefit changes.
Peter gave up work after a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. Peter took his own life the day after he received a text asking him to attend the Jobcentre. His partner Christine said at his inquest, “You only had to look at Peter to realise he couldn’t work. I still believe if he hadn’t received the text he would still be here now. He had been perfectly fine until then.”
Sheila had severe bipolar disorder, with frequent spells in psychiatric hospitals and several suicide attempts. She had never worked, but was placed in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance. To keep her benefit, she was required to go on the Work Programme and became increasingly anxious and distressed. Eventually Sheila was sectioned. Just over a week later she had a heart attack in the psychiatric unit, and fell into a coma. Whilst in a coma, Sheila received letters from her work programme provider hoping that she was “closer to the job market”. After fifteen months Sheila died. Her father Ken said, “I believe that if it wasn’t for Iain Duncan Smith, Sheila would still be alive”.
Edward suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, and was left with severe depression and insomnia. He also suffered from HIV, hepatitis C, and sciatica. After an assessment he was found fit for work and his benefits stopped. The day he was informed of the decision he posted his thoughts on Facebook, venting his frustration at David Cameron and the assessment system. A week later he was found dead of an overdose. The Coroner delivered a narrative verdict, saying, “I find the assessment process in Edward’s case did not fully or properly reflect Edward’s physical and mental health at that time.” Edward’s elder brother, Richard and his twin sister Margaret, said: “We have no doubt that the decision to stop his allowance was a major trigger which led him on to a severe depression and desperate action.”
Denis died five weeks after his benefits were stopped due to his failure to return a form on time. His friend James said, “He had served in the armed forces and worked his entire life until he became ill. He became dependent on food parcels and the generosity of friends but he was crushed under the pressure of it all. He tried to sort it out but he didn’t really know what to do and he didn’t own a computer so it is not easy when everything is online nowadays.”
Julia worked for Northamptonshire Young Carers until she was involved in a car accident in which she sustained a severe back injury, causing chronic pain. Coroner Anne Pember said she believed that the “upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life.”
Luke had schizophrenia and had been in receipt of Incapacity Benefit. He was then assessed as fit to work, against the opinion of his own doctor. Three months after the decision Luke was found dead at home. There was an open verdict at his inquest. His sister Natalie said, “We can’t prove the cause of my brother’s death, but we know that the only seismic shift in his life that shocked his stability and impacted a decline in his mental health was this WCA decision. We believe this was a contributing factor.” Natalie described Iain Duncan Smith’s call for disabled people to “work your way out of poverty”, something her brother was not able to do, as a “deeply irresponsible simplification of such a complex issue.”
Stephen suffered from anxiety and depression as well as high blood pressure, a heart condition and musculo-skeletal problems. He was found fit for work and his benefits stopped. He was left reliant on foodbanks and died before his appeal was heard. His sister Mavis said, “I find it hard to believe in this day and age that the State would leave a man penniless – but this is 21st-century Britain where a sick man can be hounded to death and denied a safety net.”
Jan had worked as a care assistant and in hotels until poor health meant she had to give up work. She was suffering from cancer and fibromyalgia when the ‘bedroom tax’ drove her into rent arrears and she had to give up the home she loved, losing her support network. Her daughter Nicola said “When she moved, all the people that were around her weren’t there any more. She was on her own. ” She also felt that the constant form-filling and battling over benefits took a heavy toll on her mother’s heath. “It was too much for her, she couldn’t handle it.”
Craig was forced to give up work when an accident meant he had to have a partial amputation of his leg. His family described him as “vulnerable”. After Craig took his own life his neighbor Kevin said that the last time he saw Craig he was worried that his benefits had been cut.
Sandra had a degenerative back condition and had not worked for ten years when her incapacity benefit was stopped. She was found dead of an overdose of her prescription medication. Her husband David said that in the days leading up to her death, Sandra had been “extremely upset due to a tribunal regarding her incapacity benefit, as this had been taken off her. Sandra had been very worried about our income but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.” Coroner Ann Hind recorded a verdict of suicide and said that perhaps Mrs. Moon had been more worried about her financial situation than she expressed. “We can only feel so sad for what must have been going through her mind.”
Alan, a diabetic, had been homeless but at the time of his death was living in council accommodation with the support of a charity. He had no feeling in his arms and legs and very limited mobility. Alan was placed in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance so was obliged to attend meetings with DWP contractor Maximus. After a fall Alan was admitted to hospital. He was afraid he would be sanctioned so charity worker Mandy McGuire informed Maximus of the situation. Subsequently Alan received a letter from the DWP (believed to be asking for evidence to prevent his benefits being sanctioned) which was read to him by a friend. Mandy says, “he went a deathly grey colour and complained about pains, and then he collapsed. Within an hour, he was dead.”
Brian was blind in one eye and paralysed down one side of his body after a stroke. He was ruled fit to work and died of a heart attack the day after being notified that his benefits would be stopped. His 13 year old son Kieran wrote a moving letter to the Daily Record, and in an interview said, “Maybe I could accept his death a bit better if he had died of natural causes, but knowing that the stress of the Atos stuff killed him makes me sick to my stomach. I refuse to come to terms with it.”
Janet had fibrosis of the lungs and struggled to breathe. She applied for Disability Living Allowance and Employment Support Allowance. An assessor visited her at home, but she was refused both benefits and deemed fit to work. Janet’s husband Lawrie said, “I was very angry. She was in poor health at the time and she deteriorated after that.” Janet died five months after being refused benefits.
Father of three Ben took his own life after his benefits were stopped and he was threatened with eviction from his home. Recording a verdict of suicide, Coroner Richard Taylor said, “Something must have happened to make him behave the way he did, because he had so much more to live for, especially his relationship with his daughter. At the time, his money had been stopped, he had no form of income, and he said he was threatened with eviction from his home – all matters that can play one someone’s mind very much.”
Seriously ill with polycythaemia, Terry felt too ill to go to his Work Capability Assessment, but was afraid his benefits would be stopped if he did not attend. During the assessment Terry was so ill his that brother who had accompanied him asked for an ambulance to be called. Terry died in hospital the next day.
When a degenerative lung condition made it impossible for Larry to continue working he applied for benefits and went for a Work Capability Assessment. He had trouble breathing and his weight had dropped to seven stone. He was refused benefit and told he would be fit to work within three months. Larry was devastated and decided to appeal, but within three months he was dead. His wife Sylvia remembers one of the last things Larry said to her as he was put on a ventilator; “It’s a good job I’m fit for work.”
David was a diabetic who had his benefit stopped after a Work Capability Assessment. He appealed the decision but when the date of his appeal hearing arrived he was ill in hospital. He joked to his daughter that she could wheel him to the hearing in his hospital bed, but he died two weeks after his benefits were stopped. His daughter Alexandra said, “He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t see. He was in a terrible state. How was he supposed to work?”
Michael was suffering from severe anxiety, depression and agoraphobia when he was found fit for work and placed on Jobseekers’ Allowance. He tried to take his own life when sent on a training course, but survived. A year later, hours before he was due to start a four-week work placement on a building-site, he took his own life. At his inquest Coroner Mary Hassell said, “the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that.” The Coroner also sent a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the DWP, because she believed there was “a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”
Paul, a highly regarded writer, suffered from a heart condition and depression. When he took his own life, GP Dr. Stephen Carty told the Scottish Welfare Reform Committee, “ Paul Reekie took his life following a work capability assessment. He didn’t leave a suicide note. He left on his desk two letters. One was a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) informing him his incapacity benefit had been stopped and the other was from the council informing him his housing benefits had stopped.”
Lee struggled with depression and took his own life after his benefits were stopped. Coroner Penelope Schofield said, “Mr Robinson tried to be positive but found it hard in the economic climate. His main issues were his benefits had been stopped and he had to go to the job centre to claim jobseekers allowance.”
Martin had been diagnosed with treatment-resistant schizophrenia, but was found fit to work. Two months later he was found dead, and his family said that the prospect of having to find a job had put too much pressure on him. Recording a verdict of suicide, Coroner William Armstrong said the DWP’s decision “caused distress and may well have had an adverse effect’.
Richard stabbed himself in the heart after learning his housing benefit would be cut by £30 per month. Coroner Fiona Wilcox said, “He carried out a considered act in response to his inability to find employment and the fact that his housing benefit was about to be cut and the family would have faced having nowhere to live.”
Tim was blind and suffered from agoraphobia. He hanged himself when he was ruled fit to work and his benefits were dramatically cut, leading to the threat of eviction. Coroner Andrew Haigh said, “A major factor in his death was that his benefits had been greatly reduced leaving him almost destitute.”
Mark was deprived of oxygen when he was born, which left him with epilepsy. He was prone to anxiety and panic attacks, and turned to drink to ease the anxiety. His father Cliff said, “Mark was unable to control an innate fear which was with him all the time.” His benefits were stopped when he was found fit to work, and he died of pneumonia six weeks later. His father said, “They should never have been stopped. They pulled the rug from under him and I think the stress of it led to his death.”
Graham had Addison’s disease, but worked for forty years before the illness became too much for him. He applied for benefits but was assessed as fit for work and his application was refused. Months later he died of a heart attack. His wife Yvonne said, “The month before he died, you could tell he was going downhill. He was completely not himself, his stress levels were going through the roof and he was upping his steroids to higher levels every day. Graham was talking about his appeal constantly and writing the details out dozens of times a day. He was a proud man and what upset him most was that he thought they were calling him a liar. It was just heartbreaking.”
Karen needed a kidney transplant but was found fit to work. She lost an appeal against the decision but continued to fight as her health deteriorated. She was awarded Employment and Support Allowance shortly before her death. Her husband Nigel said, “It was an absolute disgrace for someone to suggest she was capable of working and it caused her terrible anxiety in the final years of her life. It should have been plain to anybody that my wonderful wife was not capable of work. Just getting through the day at home was becoming a struggle.”
After being found fit for work, Chris was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The end of his life was blighted by a dispute with the DWP. Whilst in hospital receiving chemotherapy he would get texts from the Jobcentre telling him about jobs he should be applying for. A letter saying he needed to increase his efforts to find work arrived the day after he died.
Elenore had a brain tumour partially removed when she was fifteen, which left her with epilepsy and other consequences. She was assessed and placed in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA. Before she could appeal the decision, a scan revealed her tumour was now terminal, and she died within weeks.
Since childhood Colin suffered frequent epileptic seizures, sometimes several times a day. He wanted to work but accepted he would never be able to hold down a job. After being assessed as fit to work Colin had his benefits reduced, and became extremely anxious and stressed. He appealed the decision, but months of waiting increased his stress levels, and he was found dead at home after a seizure. Five weeks later his parents received the result of his appeal: the decision had been reversed, Colin was not fit to work. Colin’s father says, “I firmly believe, I one hundred percent believe, that the system this government have, killed my son. And I will never, ever, change that.”
Paul was medically retired from his job after having a heart attack and bypass surgery. He was assessed as fit for work and told he was not entitled to Employment Support Allowance. Within months he had died of heart failure. His mother Sheila said, “We believe the claim he was fit to work brought on his death. He was very upset and worried that he would fail any medical given to him by a potential employer. He also thought the officials believed he was a fraud who should not have been claiming this benefit in the first place. But Paul was a very proud man.”
Linda had undergone two heart and lung transplants and was experiencing severe health problems, including frequent blackouts, when she was found fit to work. Her appeal against the decision was rejected. Linda died nine days after her benefits were stopped. Her husband Peter said, “I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own body fluids. The last months of her life were a misery because she worried about her benefits, feeling useless, like a scrounger. But there was no way in a million years she could work.”
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